Pygmalion Productions' latest play, Eleemosynary
, debuted this week (and runs through March 11) at the Rose Wagner. The Lee Bessing
play focuses on three single women in the same family who can't seem to communicate: Grandmother Dorothea, who is asserting her independence by being eccentric; mother Artie, who fled her mother's controlling nature; and daughter Echo, a smart and sensitive child who Artie left in the care of Dorothea. Today we chat with director Jeremy Chase and all three actresses from the production to talk about their experience putting this play together. (All pictures provided courtesy of Pygmalion Productions.
, Barb Gandy and Tracie Merrill
Gavin: Hey everybody! First thing, tell us a bit about yourselves.
I’ve been involved in theater
for the past 20 years. Primarily acting, but I do direct
from time to time. This is the first time I’ve directed at Pygmalion, and am also proud to serve on their board.
I’m a sophomore at Westminster College, where I also work as a foreman in the scene shop.
I’m a theater
geek from New Jersey who fell in love with an outdoor geek from Utah.
What had each of you been doing in local theater over the past year?
Besides this production, a little more than a year ago I directed a staged reading of The Talented Mr. Ripley
through Weller Book Works.
This past fall, I was involved with Plan-B’s One Big Union
, and prior to that, Selma 65
I have been lucky enough to do quite a bit this last this last year. I was in Two Gentlemen of Verona
, The Bear
through Westminster College, as well Titus Andronicus
with Pinnacle Acting Company. I was also in two shows during the SLC Fringe Festival, The Rental
with The Two-Fifteen Project and Didn’t Go as Planned
with Scylla and Charybdis Productions.
Jeremy, when did you first come across Eleemosynary, and what were your initial thoughts on the play?
became acquainted with the work of Lee Blessing through a close friend of mine who told me about his directing of Eleemosynary
many moons ago. I then had the chance to be in a production of Blessing’s Cobb,
and then saw a production of Down the Road
. I’d been a fan of Blessing ever since, and became a bucket list item for to direct one of his plays. I love Eleemosynary
because it’s not often I read a script with every character so strongly independent, driven to live a life on their own terms. None of the Wesbrook
women are to be trifled with. That said, they are a family. A very brilliant, yet very flawed family. Through the course of the show, we learn the reasons why, and how they love and try to understand each other.
How did the opportunity come about for you to direct it at Pygmalion?
I thought the script was aligned to Pygmalion’s artistic mission. I submitted it for consideration, and at the same time threw my hat into the ring to direct it.
What kind of approach did you take to this particular production?
I rely a lot on music in my own research and pre-production process. Every time I read the script, I was struck by how much tension was woven into these relationships and dialogue. Yet also fierce, if not at times misguided love. As a result, I was drawn to music with elements of dissonance as well as harmony. Orchestral in nature, mainly. It became a useful starting point to ideate from. But really, I just love to collaborate. I will never profess to have any of the answers, but I will have some ideas on where I think things can go. I get a lot of satisfaction blending and bending those ideas with the talent and expertise of others: actors, designers, stage manager. That’s the joy I experience creating live theater
How has it been for you working with this cast?
Are you kidding? It ain’t work, first of all. It’s absolute bliss. Barb, Tracie and Syd are smart, fearless, talented actresses. I’m lucky to even be in the damn room with them.
Barb, Tracie, and Sydney, what were your first thoughts about the play when you read it?
I thought that it was an extraordinary play. I was impressed by how complex and truthful the relationships were between each of these women, it was just so easy to relate to. After my initial reading, I was interested in the architecture of the play, how Blessing crafted together the women’s timelines and wove in Echo’s words.
It’s beautiful storytelling that involves complicated family relationships, and a quirky journey of growing and healing.
The script is beautifully written; the roles are a dream for an actor; Jeremy has a great passion for the play—always a big plus when considering investment into a production.
What drew each of you toward your specific characters and helped you understand them?
I’m a lover of personal stories. Artie is one of the more challenging, complicated characters I have had the pleasure of working on, which is a draw in itself. I’ll never know if my understanding of her is exactly as Blessing intended when he wrote her, but I have depended heavily on the dialogue and relationships with Dorthea and Echo to inform who she is and the actions she takes. The discoveries keep continuing, every time we run it.
It is a three-character play—all women. Dorothea, my role, is strong, decisive in amazing ways, and has a unique world view. She is unexpected, and therein lies her eccentricity. I'm really excited.
Originally I was intrigued by Echo’s quick mind ability to spell. It seemed that Echo negotiated life using words, like that was her driving force, and I found that fascinating. I also relate to the relationship between Echo and Artie and did not want to miss exploring that dynamic.
What was it like for you to explore those people and bring them to life?
Beyond bringing the script and these characters to life, I'm excited to explore these very complex relationships and why the women make the choices they do with huge ramifications to the family dynamic. Finally, I'm looking forward to working with Tracie, Sydney and Jeremy.
It’s been fun to have the avenue of the spelling words to use as an entry point into Echo, looking into their meanings and etymology as well as other things she talks about such as Robinson Crusoe and her religious views. Also seeing how Echo changes as she interacts with her mother and grandmother, throughout the rehearsal process as well as the play its self, has been a delight.
There have been some tail-chasing moments, but it continues to be an interesting and exciting journey for me to try to figure out what informs her various choices—especially the ones I don’t necessarily agree with.
How has it been for the three of you to work together and form this family?
Working with Barb and Syd has been an absolute joy—the three of us don’t seem to have nearly as much angst in our off-stage relationship as our characters do in the play. So, that’s always a good thing.
It has been an incredible process for me. Barb and Tracie are both such strong actors, and I have adored being able to watch them work and explore with them. It is easy to see the disconnect between the characters in this show, but it has been such an honor to work with Tracie, Barb and Jeremy to find the love and connection that they harbor. Plus, they are all fun and generous people.
What are all of your thoughts going into opening night?
Of course I’m excited, and I’m so proud of and grateful for everyone involved. It’s a beautiful, challenging story to tell.
I am excited to see the audience reaction. I think they will enjoy it, it’s a beautiful show, and am looking forward to performing with such wonderful people every night.
Looking forward to having a chance to play in front of an audience, and see how we can continue to grow and explore.
Large roles are always a bit nerve-wracking even while exciting. The swift movement back and forth in the years over which the action takes place is a challenge. Why should Utah audiences not miss Eleemosynary
? The play is so well-written. The mother-daughter-granddaughter relationship is unusual and intriguing. Finally, the language that highlights fantastic words should appeal to anyone that is literary as most theater
audiences are. I mean, how often does one get to relish words like "bijouterie," "glunch" and the title, Eleemosynary
What can we expect from each of you going over the rest of the year?
Next on the horizon, I am going to be in The Cripple of Inishmaan
at Westminster June 8-10, and Ion with The Classical Greek Theatre Festival.
I’m hoping to act before I direct again. But you never know.